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A name can be a mortifying encumbrance, not lightly disowned. And, if freighted with disagreeable associations, not attractive to generosity either. Arguably, few are as conscious of the penalty as political commentator and former ANC MP Melanie Verwoerd, who confessed in a panel discussion last week that there were times when she was quite willing simply to introduce herself as "Melanie" and leave it at that. Being a "Verwoerd" — a name she gained through marriage — came with the burden of having at times to get it straight just who she was and where she stood. This is by no means a difficulty, given that she and her former husband have always been progressive and committed to the idea of a common South African citizenship. But still. So it was, turning up for a recent appointment, that Verwoerd breezily announced herself as "Melanie" before taking her seat in reception with the comfort of casually assumed anonymity. Her heart sank when the receptionist asked for her surname. "It’s...

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